NCF Nation: Donnie Carona

Not exactly what we expected in this one, either.

Any given Saturday, I suppose. Texas Tech had lost its past three games by an average of 42 points, but leads Missouri 17-10 at halftime.

Missouri coordinators Dave Steckel and David Yost filled in for Gary Pinkel in the pregame festivities in Columbia. Pinkel was suspended one week and given other financial penalties totaling more than $306,000 after being arrested on drunk driving charges on Wednesday night.

Donnie Carona booted a solid 48-yard field goal into a stiff wind in the final minute of the half to give the Red Raiders a 10-point lead. Missouri's Trey Barrow countered with a field goal of his own after a long return by Gahn McGaffie and a 36-yard completion to L'Damian Washington.

Time for a look at the first half in Columbia.

Turning point I: Kendial Lawrence broke a run up the middle, but was stripped by former receiver Cornelius Douglas just short of the goal line and fumbled into the end zone, preventing Missouri from tying the game. Douglas also scooped up a fumble and scored for Tech's only points last week.

Turning point II: Missouri running back De'Vion Moore, in for the injured Henry Josey, broke a 54-yard run down the right sideline to set up a 5-yard touchdown run from quarterback James Franklin that cut Texas Tech's lead to 14-7. Missouri's offense needed a spark and Moore provided it to get them back in the game. The 90-yard drive was Missouri's longest of the season.

Stat of the half: Texas Tech prevented Missouri from scoring on five consecutive possessions. That's the longest streak Texas Tech's put together all season.

Best player in the half: Scott Smith, DE, Texas Tech. He's been a constant disruption, making four tackles and getting two sacks, both coming on third down. He also tackled Franklin short of a first down on a third-down scramble. He's made the plays necessary to make that five-possession streak happen.

What Texas Tech needs to do: Don't change a thing. The offense has moved the ball consistently, and the defense put its best half of the season together against the Tigers. The Red Raiders will be without leading receiver Alex Torres, who suffered a knee injury in the first half, but Seth Doege has been solid, and the defense is making enough plays to stay in the lead. The Red Raiders are winning the field position battle, too, thanks to some solid special teams play.

What Missouri needs to do: Like I wrote earlier, keep this game on the ground and keep pounding. The defense has had trouble with Tech's offense, and keeping them off the field is the best option at this point. Missouri's had a lot of success running the ball, and there's not much reason to believe that won't continue.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Hopefully the Easter candy is disappearing and the ham is dwindling.

Here are a few Big 12 tidbits to go with your lunches today. Enjoy them.

  • Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman writes that Sam Bradford wants a Great Dane puppy -- just like the one he had when he was a kid growing up.
  • The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls reports that converted Texas quarterback John Chiles has been a quick learner at wide receiver during the spring.
  • Texas Tech kicker Donnie Carona is giving incumbent punter Jonathan LaCour a solid challenge during spring practice, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams reports.
  • selects the 10 greatest moments in Nebraska football history.
  • Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel proposes each FBS team playing two spring games.
  • Scott Wright of the Oklahoman writes about the noticeable excitement and enthusiasm that can be detected around the Oklahoma State program this spring.
  • Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith has been one of the Tigers' revelations of spring practice, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond reports.
  • Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee promises to be steady in his approach to his team's spring game on Saturday, the Omaha World-Herald's Rich Kaipust writes.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Spring practice is a time for competition across college football. Clashes for jobs are as much a part of offseason work as gassers and not hitting quarterbacks in inter-squad games and scrimmages.

Some of the spring competition across the Big 12 will be particularly notable. Here are some positional battles that bear watching over the next few weeks.

Nebraska quarterback: Even though Patrick Witt left, there still should be an intense battle between Zac Lee, Kody Spano and heralded freshman Cody Green to replace Joe Ganz. Don't expect this battle to be settled until shortly before the season -- perhaps the major reason Witt decided to leave for another opportunity.

Oklahoma right tackle: Although the Sooners' offensive line should be their most pressing concern this spring, there will be notable competition at one position. Trent Williams has moved to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. That will leave Cory Brandon and heralded LSU transfer Jarvis Jones battling for snaps on the other side.

Texas running back: The Longhorns have to develop some kind of running threat to keep from using Colt McCoy too much again as a runner. Without a dominant back, it looks like Mack Brown again will opt for a rotation-by-committee setup. Fozzy Whittaker has impressed coaches with his breakaway burst, but must stay healthy. Vondrell McGee will get his chance, but better learn how to pick up blitzes better. Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton has shown flashes of becoming the next Chris Ogbonnaya because of his receiving abilities. Cody Johnson might be the best move-the-pile runner if he can stay in shape. And all of this is before heralded incoming freshman Chris Whaley arrives this summer.

Colorado quarterback: Cody Hawkins arrives as the favorite because of his experience, but burning Tyler Hansen's redshirt last season indicated the need at that point of the season for a change. Both will compete for the job along with true freshmen Clark Evans and Matt Ballenger, who appear to have some of the qualities of both of last season's starters.

Texas Tech kicker: Matt "Lynwood" Williams was one of the best stories in college football when he joined Texas Tech's team after coaches discovered him in an in-game kicking promotion. Williams converted 33 straight extra points, but wasn't counted on to kick field goals very often. Donnie Carona, who received a rare scholarship offer from Mike Leach before last season, could be poised to challenge if he can forget about last season's struggles. And Blinn College kicker Brad Hicks will try to walk-on at the position. Whoever emerges has to boost Tech's kicking after the Red Raiders converted only seven field goals to tie for the second fewest in the Big 12. The Red Raiders' field-goal conversion rate was 54 percent -- second worst in the conference.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Mike Leach comes back to Norman tonight. It's a place where he's never had much success in four previous losses with Texas Tech.

The challenge of stopping Oklahoma has flummoxed the best of the Big 12 team over the years. Hence Bob Stoops' 59-2 record here. His only losses came to Les Miles and Oklahoma State in 2001 and Gary Patterson's TCU team in the season opener in 2005.

But Leach said earlier this week that he thought his team's performance in 2006 -- a game where they reeled off 17 straight points and made the Sooners work in an eventual 34-24 victory -- has given them confidence that they haven't had in previous games here.

"We came in and played them pretty well," Leach said. "It's a game that we could have won with a break or two."

That confidence seems to have been passed along to his team, which might have a chance to stun the Sooners and claim their first appearance in the Big 12 title game with a victory tonight.

But even more than confidence, here's another reason why the Red Raiders might be poised to make some history here tonight.

Namely, this Texas Tech team might be the best that has ever come to challenge the Sooners in the Stoops era.

Leach has his best quarterback in Graham Harrell. He has his best player in Michael Crabtree. His offensive line is a veteran group that has helped him balance his offense with a semblance of a running game.

Texas Tech is only the third top-10 team to play here during Stoops' era. The No. 3 Sooners stunned No. 1 Nebraska 31-14 in 2000. And No. 2 Oklahoma blew out No. 9 Iowa State, 49-3, here in 2002.

Texas Tech's team is the biggest challenge the Sooners have faced since then. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the Sooners' home field mystique.

Here are some other items that will be important tonight.

  • How Oklahoma's injury-ravaged defense holds up. The Sooners are missing top pass rushers Auston English and Alan Davis. Six of their seven starters among the linebackers and defensive backs have never started against Texas Tech's defense before. Checking what is suddenly a balanced -- for Tech anyway -- offensive attack will be difficult for that inexperienced Sooners group. Oklahoma has yielded at least 28 points in each of the past five games -- something that they have never done in the history of the program.
  • Heisman ramifications. Graham Harrell and Sam Bradford are both among the top candidates for what they've accomplished -- particularly in recent weeks. The winner of the game should have a huge leg up on the field a few days after Heisman ballots have started arriving at the homes and offices of balloters. Whoever wins tonight's nationally televised game will have a big advantage over the field. At least until the next round of games next week.
  • The turnover margin. Oklahoma leads the nation with eight turnovers lost. Texas Tech has only 14 giveaways. I don't think either team will be prone for a big mistake. Whoever gets advantage -- particularly if it's early -- will have a huge advantage.
  • Oklahoma's quick starts. In the past three games, the Sooners have charged from the opening kickoff, scoring 11 touchdowns on their first 14 possessions in the last three games. In their first six conference games, Oklahoma has outscored opponents 126-24 in the first quarter. And on average, they are already 17 points ahead by the start of the second quarter.
  • Special teams. Both teams have liabilities here. Tech leads the nation with nine kicks that have been blocked (five field goals, three punts and an extra point) and must do a better job protecting their kickers. And Leach's lack of confidence in Donnie Carona resulted in the mid-season call-up of Matt Williams from the Tech student section as the Red Raiders' extra-point kicker. Carona likely will kick long field goals while Williams will be used from intermediate distances and close ones.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

1. Kicking problems for the power elite. I'm baffled at the kicking woes that have befallen the Big 12's top three teams. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all have struggled in recent weeks with reliable field-goal kicking. Usually sure Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence shanked kicks of 44 and 20 yards before he was removed for Ryan Bailey. Oklahoma kicker Jimmy Stevens missed from 30 yards and was involved in a sideline argument with 297-pound defensive tackle Cordero Moore. Despite his size disadvantage television replays showed the kicker grab the bigger player's facemask. And Texas Tech's prolonged slump with Donnie Carona makes that facet perhaps the Red Raiders' biggest question mark.

Of course, the three teams rank second (Oklahoma), third (Texas Tech) and fifth (Texas) in scoring in the national statistics through games of this week. What it's meant are that coaches for those three power squads have been more than willing to go for touchdowns rather than settle for field goals most of the season. But somewhere down the line, all will likely have to depend on a clutch kick. And I'm not sure that any of the coaches would feel certain about their chances today if they had to line up for a game-winning 45-yard kick to decide a BCS bowl trip.

2. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson might be the conference's most underrated play caller. Watson cooked up a little bit of everything for Kansas on Saturday. Direct snaps to Marlon Lucky in the "Joker" package resulted in a touchdown pass thrown by the senior I-back. A pass to 300-pound defensive tackle-turned-fullback Ndamukong Suh produced another score. Another strong effort by Joe Ganz, the conference's most consistently underrated quarterback. It's not your father's Cornhuskers, but they looked pretty impressive on Saturday in stretching their home winning streak to 20 games against Kansas. It's likely pushed the Cornhuskers into a likely trip to the Sun Bowl and invaluable extra practice with the upcoming bowl trip.

3. Where were the Aggies? Texas A&M former students like to talk about the tradition and honor that the school has. But where were all the fans when two senior players who had played huge roles in the program in their career -- quarterback Stephen McGee and tailback Jorvorskie Lane - when Lane scored a late touchdown in garbage time against Oklahoma. Watching on television, I saw a lot of Aggies disguised as empty seats at Kyle Field at the end of the game.

4. Texas Tech's offensive line is the most underrated strength of the team. I stirred up a hornet's nest in my hot and not section Friday afternoon when I mentioned that the Red Raiders' line was not hot because it had allowed four sacks in the last two weeks. Relatively speaking, they were struggling because they had only allowed one sack all season before those two games against Kansas and Texas.

Maybe that inspired them, but the Red Raiders were in prime form in the trenches Saturday night against Oklahoma State as the major reason why Tech erupted for 629 yards -- Tech's fourth 600-yard performance of the season. Graham Harrell was barely touched en route to a 456-yard, six-TD pass performance. And Tech also rushed for 113 yards, its 10th straight 100-yard rushing performance.

5. Sunday dinner at the Hawkins' household in Boulder likely will be more pleasant today, I bet. The dramatic comeback orchestrated by Cody Hawkins took a lot of heat off his dad. The Buffaloes showed offensive flashes in their best half of the season against Iowa State. The big comeback likely will have the younger Hawkins in the starting lineup for the Buffaloes' final two games, making Misti Hawkins' meat loaf and broccoli casserole taste much better for all of those who are partaking at their table today.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

1. Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown grab was simply the greatest play in the history of the Big 12 Conference. You can have Vince Young's run through the USC secondary. Or Matt Davidson's kicked pass reception against Missouri. Or even Sirr Parker's catch-and-run against Kansas State. But Crabtree's dramatics trumped them all. People will be watching replays of the play and talking about where they were when Crabtree's grab took place for a long, long time. And I think a pretty good argument can be made that Texas Tech's classic 39-33 victory over Texas was the greatest game in Big 12 history, too. Colt McCoy's near-comeback after all of his early struggles. All of the wacky field goals by Matt Williams and Donnie Carona. The late heroics by Crabtree and Harrell after Blake Gideon's dropped interception on the previous play. Tech fans storming the field and forcing their team to kick from its 7˝ yard line on the final play of the epic game. Tech's first victory over a No. 1 team in school history. In my mind, it's pretty tough to beat all of that.

2. Texas Tech's comeback Saturday night just means that we will likely have a November to remember around the Big 12. Texas would have taken a giant step to its first South Division title since 2005 if it would have held on. But instead, it all sets up very nicely for another run of potentially great games the next several weeks. We'll have Oklahoma State-Texas Tech next week, followed by Texas-Kansas on Nov. 15, Texas Tech-Oklahoma on Nov. 22 and then Texas A&M-Texas and Oklahoma State-Oklahoma on the final weekend of the season. It should be fun to watch it play out.

3. After watching Jake Sharp knife through the Kansas State secondary as a runner and as a receiver, I've got to wonder why Mark Mangino ever benched him in the first place. Sharp is one of the most productive combination backs in college football. It's hard to believe that he totaled 86 rushing yards and four receptions during the Jayhawks' first four games. Maybe Mangino was just saving him for conference play. But his recent emergence is the biggest reason why the Jayhawks are sitting in a tie for first place for the North Division lead.

4. Bo Pelini's emotion-charged decision of barring his players from talking to the media after their blowout loss in Oklahoma was a wrong one of make. Sure, the Nebraska coach was angry and agitated with his team's struggling performance. He obviously felt his team wasn't emotionally ready to compete. But a better punishment than keeping them away from the media would have been to make them come out and explain their actions. Pelini actually let them off the hook.

5. Heralded Colorado recruit Darrell Scott will get his chance now. Scott popped off to reporters after the Buffaloes' loss to Texas A&M that he wanted more chances to carry the ball. After leading rusher Rodney Stewart broke his right leg Saturday, Scott should be used more by coach Dan Hawkins. Scott showed some promise after Stewart's injury with a season-best 66 yards. He'll need much more if the Buffaloes have any legitimate hopes of winning two games during the rest of the season to qualify for a bowl game.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Texas 45, Texas Tech 42 -- The Longhorns are finishing up a grueling four-game stretch of facing Top 25 opponents after earlier victories over Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State. It could be understandable if they had a little bit less in their tank this week, particularly after the nicks their secondary has taken. That's not a good sign against Texas Tech's high-powered offensive attack, which has always seemed to have success against Texas despite the Longhorns' five-game winning streak in the series. In the end, defense has always been the problem for the Red Raiders against Texas. And while Tech will take a much better, more-balanced team on the field this week than in recent games with the Longhorns, it still won't be enough. Texas just has too many weapons. And I look for the game to be settled on special teams. Texas has a consistent kicker in Hunter Lawrence and Tech is struggling with sputtering Donnie Carona. That will provide just enough of an advantage that enables the Longhorns to escape with a tight victory. But it won't be easy.

Oklahoma 45, Nebraska 31 -- The Big Eight's most storied former rivalry will be replayed Saturday in its new form in Norman. The Sooners simply have too many offensive weapons for the Cornhuskers. They should be able to consistently run the ball against a banged-up Nebraska linebacking corps that will be missing Phillip Dillard. And Sam Bradford should be up for another big passing game as well. The Cornhuskers will try to continue their recent offensive recipe of controlling the clock and trying to keep their outmanned defense off the field. It will work for a while, but look for the Sooners to pull away late.

Texas A&M 27, Colorado 24 -- The new-look Aggies will continue their recent winning streak, riding the strong passing skills of Jerrod Johnson to victory. I like the matchup of the Aggies' young receiving corps against Colorado's secondary, which still might be a little shell-shocked from their struggles last week against Missouri. The Aggies' defense remains their biggest question, but I don't think that Colorado has enough weapons to claim its first road victory of the season against them.

Kansas 35, Kansas State 31 -- Look for the beleaguered Jayhawks defense to rise up with a stronger performance after being torched for 108 points in the last two weeks. Kansas State is a little bit too turnover-prone and Ron Prince is still looking for his team's first victory against its in-state rival. Kansas running back Jake Sharp needs a big game in order to allow the Jayhawks to take advantage of the undermanned Kansas State rush defense. And I think he'll do it, providing an edge silencing some of the more lippy Wildcats who were popping off earlier in the week about winning the game.

Oklahoma State 49, Iowa State 20 -- The Cowboys can't afford to look back at last week's disappointing loss to Texas if they want to keep their slim Big 12 South title hopes alive. And they shouldn't against an Iowa State team that has been struggling defensively, particularly against the pass. That sounds like a recipe for big games by Dez Bryant and Brandon Pettigrew as the Cowboys take to the air more than usual to claim the victory, extending Iowa State's 33-game road losing streak to ranked opponents. ISU's last victory against a ranked team on the road came on Oct. 20, 1990, at Oklahoma. It won't come on Saturday.

Missouri 45, Baylor 21 -- The Tigers rebounded nicely with an impressive shutout victory over Colorado and still control their own destiny in the North Division. Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin should have a big days against an improving but still outmanned Baylor defense. Robert Griffin will have some moments but not nearly enough to allow his team to snap a six-game losing streak against the Tigers.

My picks last week: 4-2 (66.7 percent)

My picks for the season: 62-10 (86.1 percent)

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.

1. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel evoked a deeper pledge of accountability from his team in the week between the Tigers' loss at Texas and last week's game at Colorado. The Missouri coach made each player visit his office and pledge their best effort against Colorado. The ploy worked as the Tigers responded with a 58-0 shutout over the Buffaloes -- Missouri's first shutout in a conference game since 1986.

2. Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray, projected by many to be the best back in the conference before the season, finally appears back to form after two strong weeks of play. The main reason, Murray said, is his confidence in making sharper cuts on the field is finally returning. Murray sustained a dislocated kneecap late last season and had trouble bouncing back from the injury for mental and physical reasons. But not any longer. Murray has accounted for 287 yards rushing and receiving and scored six TDs in victories over Kansas and Kansas State.

3. Texas Tech coaches are gaining confidence in walk-on kicker Matt Williams, who was used only for extra points last week against Kansas. Tech coaches are finding that Williams' range is strong for field goals of up to about 40 yards and may consider using him for those kicks in Saturday's South Division showdown against Texas. Donnie Carona remains their choice for longer field-goal attempts.

4. Expect converted freshman wide receiver Daymond Patterson to remain at cornerback for the foreseeable future at Kansas. Coach Mark Mangino said the position switch was made because of lack of personnel at the defensive position. Patterson got a tough baptism last week as he faced off against Texas Tech's high-powered aerial attack. And it won't get much easier this week when he faces Kansas State.

5. Nebraska linebacker Phillip Dillard's recurring ankle injury will result in a variety of players likely filling his position if he can't go Saturday against Oklahoma. Tyler Wortman, Colton Koehler and walk-on freshmanMatt Holt will get some of the playing time. But the most likely scenario could be that Cody Glenn would slide to the position from his starting weak-side position. The Sooners' run-heavy philosophy likely will keep the Cornhuskers from sliding an extra defensive back into the position in their base defense.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach didn't think game-time pressure would affect the performance of his new walk-on kicker Matt Williams.

 AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
 Texas Tech kicker Matt Williams converted all of his PATs.

Leach remembered how Williams caught his attention to describe why his new kicker wouldn't be fazed by Big 12 play.

Williams won a free month of rent at a Lubbock condominium development earlier this season with a 30-yard attempt. So kicking closer ones for points after Tech's touchdowns would be much easier for Williams, Leach said.

"I thought the tough one was winning the free rent," Leach said. "You come out in your shorts and your street shoes and you have to kick a 30-yarder in front of 55,000 people. That was tough."

Williams converted all nine extra points after Tech's touchdowns. Leach didn't consider using him for Tech's only field goal attempt, a 43-yarder that Donnie Carona misfired early in the fourth quarter.

"Williams got his kicks up and we were encouraged by that," Leach said about Williams. "We had the opportunity to work with him and we were pleasantly surprised he was eligible. And he went out and did it today."

The new kicker is known by his teammates as "Lynwood," because that was the name of the apartment complex where he won the free rent. He has since turned down that offer because it would have affected his NCAA eligibility.

Tech sports information director Chris Cook implored Leach to make Williams available. But he was unable to arrange for interviews for him after the game.

"Sometimes Mike is like a guy with a new driver," Cook said. "He figures there's still a lot more big swings in that [club]. He doesn't want to mess it up."

Pre-game report from Lawrence

October, 25, 2008
Posted by's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Welcome to Memorial Stadium, where Mike Leach's grand experiment about special teams will be played out today.

Texas Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams, who less than a month ago won an in-game kicking contest at Jones AT&T Stadium for a month of free rent, will get his shot today at an even bigger prize. Williams will start the day kicking extra points for the Red Raiders in what should be an offensive shootout.

After missing six extra points and four field goals this season, Leach decided he needed a change for today's game against Kansas. It will mark Leach's third different kicker for extra points in three weeks, as he benched scholarship kicker Donnie Carona after struggles against Nebraska two weeks ago and Cory Fowler after he had two kicks blocked last week against Texas A&M.

Leach told me earlier this week that he's confident in Williams, but still might consider going for two points after each touchdown, depending on how the Red Raiders' kicking game progresses.

"I'm thinking it might not be such a bad idea," Leach said. "I guarantee you that you would make it more than half the time if you work enough on those plays. All you are doing is getting the ball from the 3-yard line. We do that all the time."

That confidence provides Leach with assurance that his teams would convert a two-point play at least 50 percent of the time. And that would equal the points that would accrue with kicks after touchdowns.

"If you could put up with the streaks, it would be the big thing," Leach said. "You might not hit two or three in a row. But I'm thinking you'd be more successful than not. And the ultimate idea is putting more points on the board, isn't it?"

Sometimes, I'm not sure when Leach is having a stream-of-consciousness thought and when he's pulling my leg. So it will be interesting to see how the Red Raiders approach their kicking game today.

I have no idea what would happen if the Red Raiders need a crucial conversion in a potentially tight contest later this afternoon.

Here are some other things I'm watching for:

Kansas' patience running the ball: The Jayhawks had much offensive success with Jake Sharp running against Oklahoma last week. After pulling within 31-24 on a drive early in the third quarter after Sharp was featured prominently, he was pulled from the game because of his blocking deficiencies. Oklahoma blew the game open at that point. Kansas coach Mark Mangino must be more patient than that today.

Tech's running game: The Red Raiders are averaging 5.5 yards per carry and have a nice two-back rotation in Shannon Woods and Baron Batch. But Tech hasn't run against a Big 12 defense that figures to be as stout as Kansas will be, making this challenge even more pressing. The Red Raiders last five opponents have ranked 109th (SMU), 98th (Massachusetts, FBS), 100th (Kansas State), 48th (Nebraska) and 106th (Texas A&M) against the rush. So it will be much tougher for them today.

Improved Kansas tackling: The Jayhawks noticeably tired last week when they played Oklahoma. After a full week of contact in practice, Kansas players say they are better suited for what will be a similarly tough offense challenge against the Red Raiders.

Something's got to give: Tech has a nine-game winning streak that is tied for the longest in the nation along with Penn State and Utah. The Red Raiders' most recent loss came last Nov. 10 at Texas.

Kansas comes into the game with a 13-game home winning streak. That streak includes six Big 12 foes during that period, although none have been ranked. The Jayhawks' most recent home loss came on Nov. 13, 2004, when Vince Young and Texas pulled out a miraculous 27-23 triumph.

The Series: Saturday's game will match two coaching protégés of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Mangino and Leach were on Stoops' first coaching staff at Oklahoma, where Leach was the passing game coordinator and Mangino directed the offensive line.

Leach is 2-0 in his previous games against Mangino. And Tech is 9-1 against Kansas in the history of the series, including all five previous games in Lawrence.

Injuries: Today's game will match two of the most secretive programs in the Big 12 in terms of releasing injuries. But a few notable players have been dinged up in recent games. The biggest concern is Tech All-American wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who sprained his ankle while returning a kickoff last week against Texas A&M. He played through the injury and is expected to play today. Starting defensive tackle Rajon Henley has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is considered questionable.

Kansas defensive tackle Caleb Blakesley is considered questionable with a leg injury.

Weather: It's an almost perfect day without a cloud in the sky. I finally felt my first cold snap coming into the stadium this season and it was great. Temperatures should be in the high 40s at kickoff and rise into the low 60s as the game progresses. Wind could be a factor with gusts of up to 20 mph from the west throughout the day. There is no chance of rain.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 things I'll be watching for around the Big 12 on Saturday.

1. The matchup between Oklahoma State's offensive line and Texas' defensive front -- The Cowboys have the most underrated offensive line in the conference, keying the most multi-faceted offense in the Big 12. But OSU's talented front will be tested by Texas' surging line led by defensive end Brian Orakpo and defensive tackle Roy Miller -- two likely all-Big 12 performers if the vote was taken today. Oklahoma State must be balanced in order to give Zac Robinson a chance to take advantage of Texas' youth in the secondary with play-action passes -- something that Chase Daniel wasn't able to do last week until it was too late.

2. Texas Tech's sputtering special teams -- After benching kickers Donnie Carona and Cory Fowler in back-to-back weeks, the Red Raiders could turn to walk-on Matt Williams as their primary kicker against Kansas. Could Williams, a former winner of an in-game kicking promotion at a Tech game earlier this season, really provide a key field conversion or field goal that would extend the Red Raiders' BCS hopes? And could quirky Tech coach Mike Leach really follow through with his intention of possibly going for two points after every touchdown because of his kicking woes? We'll see.

3. Robert Griffin's interception streak -- The Baylor freshman has thrown 155 passes without an interception to set an NCAA record for freshmen at the start of his career. Can Griffin keep it going against a Nebraska defense that has produced only five interceptions this season -- a figure way below expectations when Bo Pelini took over as head coach.

4. The Oklahoma running game against the weak Kansas State run defense -- The Sooners failed to produce 50 rushing yards in two of their last three games before erupting for 206 yards last week against Kansas. The Sooners will be facing a struggling Kansas State defensive front that has allowed an average of 229.2 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in its last five games.

5. Missouri's response to its recent two-game losing streak -- Losses to South powers Oklahoma State and Texas have shown that Missouri might have been a paper tiger and virtually crushed Chase Daniel's Heisman hopes. A start for the Tigers against Colorado would be grabbing a lead, something they haven't done in the last two games. During the first five games of the season, the Tigers trailed for a total of 13 seconds. In the last two games, Missouri has trailed for a period of 92 minutes, 14 seconds.

6. Texas A&M's struggling running game -- With the return of players like Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane back from last season's offense that ranked 13th nationally in rushing, the Aggies were expected to be able to consistently run the ball. But they floundered again last week, producing 20 yards against Texas Tech -- the lowest for any A&M team in nearly nine seasons. A&M's rushing offense ranks 100th nationally. Can it be resuscitated against an Iowa State run defense that ranks 95th in the country?

7. Will Oklahoma State finally break down the door against Texas? The Cowboys have blown huge leads in three of the last four seasons against the Longhorns, including a 21-point advantage early in the fourth quarter last season against them in Stillwater. OSU obviously has confidence it can make big plays and have success against the Longhorns. But can the Cowboys hold a lead if they get one Saturday in Austin with that mental baggage still around them?

8. The matchup between Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe -- Crabtree and Briscoe were almost college teammates as Crabtree considered attending Kansas before opting to go to Tech. Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award last season and is poised for a big game against Kansas' leaky secondary. And Briscoe is coming off a school record-breaking 12-reception, 269-yard game last week against Oklahoma. The Big 12 record for single-game receiving yards is 300 yards set by Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman against Kansas in 2006. It might be challenged by either Crabtree or Briscoe on Saturday.

9. Colorado's quarterback rotation -- Coach Dan Hawkins navigated the ticklish situation of benching his son, Cody, for freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen last week. The combination helped lead the Buffaloes to a gritty victory over Kansas State. How will Hawkins handle juggling his quarterbacks against Missouri in a virtual North Division title elimination game for the loser?

10. Josh Freeman's slump -- The Kansas State quarterback has struggled recently and has not thrown a touchdown pass since the opening possession against Texas Tech on Oct. 4. Since then, Freeman has gone 92 passes without a touchdown pass during a span that has stretched for nearly three games. He'll be facing an Oklahoma pass defense that has struggled recently before storming back to force five straight punts down the stretch to seal the victory against Kansas last week. Freeman must find his groove if the Wildcats have any hopes of notching the upset over the Sooners.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Only a few weeks ago, Matt Williams was watching Texas Tech games from the stadium and wondering where he and his friends would be heading for post-game parties.

But after winning a kicking contest during the Texas Tech's Sept. 20 game against Massachusetts with an impressive showing, Williams now could be kicking for the Red Raiders in their game Saturday at Kansas.

Talk about a wild few weeks for Williams. He attempted to become a walk-on kicker at Tarleton State but quit without appearing in a game.

He caught the attention of Tech coach Mike Leach when he drilled a 30-yard field goal in the in-game promotion, winning free rent for the month from a Lubbock apartment complex. But Williams has turned down that prize because it would have been a violation of NCAA rules, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Tech officials told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that Williams was granted a one-time exception to the NCAA transfer rule because he was neither recruited by nor ever on scholarship at Tarleton. When that information was found out earlier this week, Williams become immediately eligible. Tech officials received the confirmation in writing and cleared Williams on Monday.

His arrival comes after kickers Donnie Carona and Cory Fowler have slumped miserably in the last several games. Tech kickers have had seven kicks blocked so far this season. Leach said (not facetiously) he might consider going for two points after every touchdown because of his team's struggles with placements.

Tech special teams coach Clay Maguire told the Avalanche-Journal that either Carona or Williams will be kicking for the Red Raiders Saturday against Kansas, depending on how they perform at practice this week.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino chortled when he learned of Williams' emergence.

"Hey, in this profession, you gotta do what you gotta do," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "If there are a couple of guys running around our stadium here that could cover (Texas Tech's Michael) Crabtree, we would like them to come down. I think that's great. That's vintage Mike Leach there."

Tech's kicking saga adds another layer of intrigue to what should be one of the most interesting games in the country on Saturday.

Until then, here are a few links from around the Big 12 to get you ready for Saturday.

  • Texas' roster is dotted by many key players who have bounced back from subpar 2007 seasons, according to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  • Mad Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star's latest video leaves little doubt about when Colorado and Missouri will be playing on Saturday.
  • The Kansas student newspaper has recommended two new options for a school chant at football games. The school has taken unprecedented steps to do away with an explicit chant that had been popular at games this season that was lifted from the movie "The Waterboy."
  • Oklahoma State's much-maligned secondary has given itself a nickname "D-Block" to build camaraderie, the Oklahoman's Andrea Cohen writes. But that togetherness will be supremely tested Saturday by Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
  • Despite NFL talent analysts tripping over themselves to hype his draft standing, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford tells Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman that he's not thinking about declaring early for the NFL draft.
  • John Mackovic of the La Quinta (Calif.) Desert Sun -- yes, that John Mackovic -- writes that Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy has caught his attention for one of the most underrated coaching jobs in college football this season. Mackovic writes that he advised Gundy to go back to calling his own plays after watching the Cowboys struggle offensively earlier in Gundy's coaching career.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are some things we learned in the Big 12 Saturday:

1. Cannibalization can be fun. After watching the Big 12's top two ranked teams fall by the wayside on Saturday, blowing halftime leads in the process, it will prove that each week in the conference will be an adventure this season. The conference's balance will make the road to the national championship game -- or even a BCS bowl game -- a hazardous proposition every week.

2. The success of this season's Texas team might be the ultimate vindication of Mack Brown's coaching acumen. In the old days, Brown was known as "Mr. February" for his recruiting success and many ascribed an asterisk to his 2005 national title because of Vince Young. But Brown has taken a team of good -- but not great -- talent this season and made them collectively much better through the sum of their individual parts in his best coaching job at Texas halfway through the season. In a way, this Texas team is reminiscent of the 2000 Oklahoma team that came out of nowhere to win the national championship. That Sooner team charged through a perilous October schedule, gaining confidence with each step before claiming the national title. This Texas team will have a similar opportunity over the next few weeks -- facing a schedule that might end up being even tougher.

3. Looking back, my helmet sticker analysis was a little hasty when I considered Oklahoma State's victory over Missouri. But I'm now thinking the whole Oklahoma State team should have been honored. The Cowboys made enough plays offensively to pull off the most stunning upset in school history with their win at Columbia. But the biggest reason for the victory was the play of an improving defense that has gotten better each week. More challenges await them. But these Cowboys are the biggest surprise in the Big 12 -- and maybe in college football -- at the halfway point of the season.

4. The national championship hopes of Missouri and Oklahoma aren't dead, but both are clearly on life support. Both teams have some major work in front of them with little margin for error during the rest of the season. The Tigers appear to have the easier path to do this, although a daunting challenge awaits them Saturday in Austin. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has all kinds of questions. The Sooners will be without the standout play of defensive leader Ryan Reynolds for the rest of the season. Former Stoops strengths like special teams and a running game have inexplicably disappeared. And a gauntlet of tough South Division teams still is awaiting them. It might be the biggest coaching challenge of Stoops' career to get this team back into South Division title contention.

5. Other Big 12 teams may have learned a lesson from Nebraska to beat Texas Tech. The best way to control the Red Raiders is to keep their offense on the sidelines and keep Graham Harrell and Co. off the field. The Cornhuskers nearly pulled off a monumental upset. And other more talented teams in the South Division will have a better chance of finishing that job -- especially if the Red Raiders don't get more consistent kicking from sputtering freshman Donnie Carona.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

New Baylor coach Art Briles is facing the challenge of his coaching career as he attempts to resuscitate a program that hasn't made a bowl trip since 1994.

The Big 12's South Division will never be a picnic for the Bears, who face the yearly challenge of playing schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

So it's understandable that a relatively problematic quandary like picking his starter for the Aug. 28 opener against Wake Forest isn't that big of a deal for the new Baylor coach.

Briles has a lot of ways to go in deciding whether to start record-breaking QB Blake Szymanski, transfer Kirby Freeman from Miami or heralded freshman Robert Griffin as his starter.

All have shown flashes in training camp.

Waco Tribune-Herald beat writer John Werner thinks Briles' wavering as far as choosing a quarterback is a good idea. It will make Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe prepare in a lot of different ways when he considers whether Szymanski (the better passer), Griffin (most explosive runner) and Freeman (best combination quarterback and most experienced) will get most of the snaps.

I agree with Werner on this. Indecision might be the best decision for the next couple of weeks. And maybe even up to game time against the Demon Deacons.

Hope there's no hesitancy in diving into this steaming pile of hot links. Dig in, because dithering means you miss out.

  • Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman went back to Youngstown,Ohio, to delve into Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' early football background. "He probably would be the ideal symbol of Youngstown," his old coach Don Bucci told Trotter. "I hate to say that, because I'm sure he thinks he was pretty talented. But he was someone with just very average talent, but had a competitiveness and a toughness that nothing was going to stop him from being successful. That's Bobby Stoops, and that would be Youngstown."
  • The Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo addresses the state of the Buffaloes in his weekly chat, with particular attention to uniforms, Darrell Scott and the crowded battle at cornerback.
  • Iowa State struggled mightily last season with its special teams. That's leading coach Gene Chizik to considering using leading 2007 rusher Alexander Robinson as his prime kickoff returner.
  • The Kansas City Star's J. Brady McCullough profiles Kansas WR/backup QB/P Kerry Meier, who might be the conference's most versatile player.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Stu Durando writes about the amazing stability on Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's staff. No assistants have left Pinkel's staff since he took over in 2001.
  • If it's Tuesday it's got to be time for "First downs and second guesses" from the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel. Among the topics are the remembrances of how Tampa Bay All-Star OF Carl Crawford was almost a Cornhusker and the recent collective struggles of formerly dominant programs Miami, Florida State and Nebraska.
  • Missouri offensive linemen were feeling pretty good after Monday's practice. The unit held up reasonably well against the Tigers' No. 1 defensive front and they were treated to popsicles after practice.
  • Oklahoma All-Big 12 DE Auston English returned to practice Monday after missing all of the Sooners' previous work this summer while recovering from an appendectomy.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says he won't decide until the weekend whether he or co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer end up calling plays this year. Former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, now coach at Southern Mississippi, was the Cowboys' playcaller last season.
  • Some things never change -- like hard-nosed fullbacks populating the Nebraska program. Thomas Lawson is No. 1 at the position and sophomore Joseph Mackovicka appears ready to continue his family lineage at the position, following older brothers Jeff and Joel.
  • Healthy WR Adron Tennell could be ready to crack Oklahoma's receiving rotation, according to the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig.
  • Veteran Omaha World-Herald Big 12 reporter Lee Barfknecht picks Missouri to win the national championship.
  • Massive 250-pound converted high school quarterback Orie Lemon has emerged as Oklahoma State's likely starting middle linebacker.
  • Kansas' kicking depth has taken a hit after projected starter Stephen Hoge left the team to concentrate on academics and Jacob Brandstetter's status is iffy because of eligibility issues transferring from the Air Force Academy. That leaves Grady Fowler or P Alonso Rojas as the most likely survivor at the position.
  • Competition remains tight between Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell "The Bulldozer" McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya for the starting tailback job at Texas.
  • Kansas State will likely use a committee of wide receivers to help replace Jordy Nelson's school-record 122 receptions.
  • The Associated Press' Eric Olson has a good story about Cody Glenn's transformation from I-back to linebacker.
  • Kansas lost to Missouri in the showdown for the North Division title last November at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet Kansas still is displaying its co-championship trophy for the division title at its football complex, according to the Kansas City Star's Jeffrey Flanagan.
  • Denver Post beat writer Tom Kensler blogs about the alleged Parade All-America jinx haunting Colorado this season. Watch out Darrell Scott.
  • The Bryan-College Station Eagle's Robert Cessna reported that QB Jerrod Johnson was getting some work as a tight en
    in some formations. And third-string QB Ryan Tannehill made several nifty catches in the team's scrimmage. Sounds to me that Stephen McGee has a hammer lock on the starting QB job.
  • Left-footed K Donnie Carona, who rushed for more than 800 yards last season in high school, is looking forward to concentrating on special teams at Texas Tech. He's in a tight battle with senior Cory Fowler to replace Alex Trlica as the Red Raiders' kicker.